By Martin Cleary
If you were to walk into the dressing room of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies’ football team, you would be able to identify Katley Joseph in an instant or two.
Listen carefully to the conversations and you’ll hear a young man with a faint French accent. That would be Joseph, who learned his football skills in his hometown of Ottawa.
“When I was growing up, I knew French before I knew English,” the multi-lingual Joseph said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “I speak with an accent.”
When he calls home from Saskatoon, he likes to speak French. And his teammates like to take playful jabs at their talented defensive back.
“It’s good-natured teasing. It’s not bad,” Joseph added with a gentle laugh. “It’s English 24/7. I’m still getting used to speaking English all the time in the locker room.”
In the end, it doesn’t matter who speaks what language or who may have an accent because every one of the players speak football. And they speak it well, well enough for the Huskies to be playing in their second consecutive Vanier Cup national university football championship Saturday in London.
The U Sports championship game between Saskatchewan, the 2021 runner-up, and the Université Laval Rouge et Or will be played at 1:15 p.m. It can be viewed on the CBC and TVA channels and their various online platforms.
Saskatchewan won the Canada West regular-season pennant at 7-1, defeated the University of British Columbia 23-8 for the Hardy Cup conference title and outscored St. Francis Xavier University X-Men 36-19 in the Uteck Bowl (national semifinal).
Laval used its 7-1 regular-season mark to win the RSEQ title, defeated Université de Montréal Carabins 25-24 in the Dunsmore Cup conference final and turned back the University of Western Ontario Mustangs in the Mitchell Bowl (national semifinal) 27-20.
If you run your index finger down the Huskies’ roster, you would notice Joseph, 23, also is the only player from Eastern Canada on that list.
That was head coach Scott Flory’s doing in a lengthy process that started at the International Bowl (Canada vs. the United States) in January, 2017, in Orlando, Florida. Flory began recruiting Joseph, who played on Canada’s U19 team, at the bowl game.
After playing as a freshman and sophomore for the University of Maine Black Bears, a COVID-19 non-season and a second non-season for Joseph because of a knee injury, he said yes to the University of Saskatchewan earlier this year to pursue a master’s degree and return to football for the first time in three years with the Huskies.
It has been a memorable season on the field for Joseph, starting by reconnecting to the game he learned with the Orleans Bengals (mosquito and peewee), the Cumberland Panthers (summer league) and the St. Matthew Catholic High School Tigers in 2015 and 2016.
In seven Canada West Conference games for the Huskies, he had 25.5 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble. His play earned him selection to the Canada West all-star team.
“For me, it has been great. At the end of the day, I’m grateful I can play the sport again at a high level. It’s a blessing to be here, competing with my guys,” Joseph added. “It has been one of my better seasons.
“It felt great to be recognized at that level (all-star). I challenge myself to play at a high standard. To be recognized, I’m definitely grateful.”
After playing two high school senior seasons with the St. Matthew Tigers and completing one semester at Canada Prep Academy in St. Catharines, ON., Joseph accepted a full athletic scholarship to the University of Maine.
In his freshman and sophomore seasons, he played all 24 games with 17 starts, contributed 69 tackles, seven pass deflections, 12 pass break-ups and added one interception.
The COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the Black Bears’ 2020 season and Joseph missed the entire 2021 season because of a knee injury, a torn meniscus, which happened before the start of the football season.
But Joseph took a positive approach to a serious injury that left him wondering about his football future.
“Honestly, it’s crazy. One year ago, I didn’t know what to do,” he explained. “One year later, I’ll be playing in the most prestigious Canadian university football game. Everything happens for a reason. It’s a blessing.
“This game has given me confidence and made me aware of myself. It’s definitely great to be out playing at a high level.”
After his injury, Joseph completed his double-major degree in communications and sociology at Maine as well as getting rehabilitation for his knee.
“Patience is a virtue. It wasn’t my time yet,” he added. “I’m a self motivator. Injuries are unfortunate, but injuries are part of the game. I knew my time would come. I had to wait and be patient. I watched my team, watched the NFL on TV and helped at high school. I definitely stayed around.
“I’m a strong individual, mentally and physically. I had support from my family and believed I could get back to football. I trained hard in Ottawa. By the time I left for Saskatchewan, I felt in the best shape of my life. It was definitely a long process.”
The injury also played a role in Joseph not having his name called during the 2022 CFL Draft. Leading up to the draft, he was part of the conversation, but his injury, which left him with a lengthy seven-month recovery, saw CFL teams tone down their interest.
“Entering my senior season (at Maine), I was dreaming of pro football,” Joseph continued. “I had signed with an agency at the end of the season. I was ranked to get drafted in the CFL. I declared for the draft.
“But around the draft, I wasn’t 100 per cent and teams were doubtful I’d be ready for camp. I went undrafted. But I realized my No. 1 priority was to get healthy. As I was going through that stage, I wanted to graduate and then get my master’s.”
Five years after meeting Flory for the first time, the Saskatchewan head coach came back into Joseph’s life. Joseph visited the university and learned about its elite football program. He was accepted into the master’s program, where he’s studying educational foundations, and joined the Huskies.
But in September, the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks gave Joseph some pro football hope, placing him on their 10-player negotiation list.
“I’m not shy about spreading my wings. I have been away from home since I was 18. I liked what I saw (at the University of Saskatchewan),” an upbeat Joseph added.
Ironically, Joseph will experience the greatest moment of his football career in Ontario as his Western Canadian teammates will travel with him to London for the Vanier Cup. Joseph expects about 15 family members, past coaches and friends will form his fan club in the 8,000-seat Western Alumni Stadium.
“For me, being back and playing football in Ontario, it’s where I feel comfortable. It’s where I started, in a sense,” said Joseph, who played youth football in Ottawa and St. Catharines. “And now I want to showcase my talent and win, of course.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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